New R&A member Belle Robertson hails historic move

Belle Robertson with the 1981 Scottish Sportswoman of the Year award. Picture: Denis Straughan
Belle Robertson with the 1981 Scottish Sportswoman of the Year award. Picture: Denis Straughan
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STILL playing off two, Belle Robertson could probably be in with a decent shout of winning prizes such as the Silver Cross, Bombay Medal, Brazil Nut Cup or Kangaroo’s Paw.

Modesty may stop her from saying so but, in any case, she has no desire to compete for any of the medals or trophies in either the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews’ Spring or Autumn Meetings. Joining the men in that historic club, as opposed to trying to beat them, will do just fine for Robertson, one of the 14 women granted membership following last September’s vote to bring down the men-only barriers after 260 years.

“I’ve known since around Christmas time and it was like having all the presents around the Christmas tree and couldn’t open them as I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone,” she said of her honorary membership that was announced by the R&A chief executive, Peter Dawson, on Tuesday.

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Just as Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam – Princess Anne, too, probably, given there has been a tradition with members of the Royal family – were obvious choices to be in the first batch of women to be offered honorary status, so was Robertson, who was inducted to the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

A farmer’s daughter from Southend in Kintyre, where she went to school with Jock MacVicar, the doyen of Scottish golf writers, Robertson has a record second to none in the amateur game in the sport’s cradle. She was Scottish Women’s champion seven times, won four British titles (one match play and three stroke play) and represented Great Britain & Ireland nine times in the Curtis Cup, including two matches as non-playing captain.

Add in the four times she was Scottish Sportswoman of the Year and three Woman Golfer of the Year Awards and the Dunaverty player certainly merited inclusion on that list, which, in addition to the three others already mentioned, also included Renee Powell, the first African-American Class A member of the PGA of America, Frenchwoman Lally Segard and World Golf Hall of Famer Louise Suggs. “It’s a fantastic honour to be in such a group,” admitted Robertson. “The one I know best is Lally. Unfortunately, she has Alzheimers and is in a home. I don’t know if she will be aware of this honour.”

In her own case, Robertson’s one regret is that her husband, Ian, isn’t around to share her joy. “It’s just a pity Ian didn’t live long enough to see this. He would have been delighted,” she said.

With the exception of Princess Anne, the R&A’s newest members – seven ordinary memberships have also been offered and accepted – all have impressive golfing CVs. So, where does this addition compare to Robertson’s array of titles? “Well, I think I would say there’s nothing to beat coming off the golf course after winning a major championship,” she mused. “But after a week you’ve forgotten. I don’t think I’ll forget this.”

Having seen Augusta National and the R&A both admit women members in recent years, membership reviews are currently taking place at the three men-only clubs on the Open Championship rota – Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal St George’s.

“In a way, I feel a little sorry for the male clubs because of the tradition and history behind them,” said Robertson in offering an honest opinion on the changes taking place. “Golf, I think, has more history and tradition than any other sport.

“It’s good that it’s happening now though, and maybe it’s better doing it in a more respectful way rather than the Martha Burk way, shouting and screaming,” she added of the American feminist who spearheaded a campaign for Augusta National to admit a woman member a decade or so before the home of the Masters opened its doors to Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.

Still a keen follower of the amateur game – she was out on Royal Troon last April watching the final round of the Helen Holm Trophy – Robertson is hoping her own chapter in men and women coming together under one roof will be followed by the same thing happening with the Scottish Ladies Golfing Association and the Scottish Golf Union. Four years after the first bid to create a unified body failed, a fresh proposal has just received unanimous backing from the SLGA membership, with the SGU set to vote next month.

“I think it was ridiculous that the men threw out the amalgamation between the SGU and the SLGA the last time,” declared Robertson. “Look at Wales, they amalgamated years ago. Hopefully, it will go through this time. It has to.”

Even at 78, Robertson could probably still give a good account of herself in Scotland colours. “I play to a handicap of two at Troon, but I didn’t play much the last two years because we were looking after Ian,” she said. “I hope to play a little more this year given decent weather. But I won’t be playing in R&A competitions. That’s out of my league.”